Why so many plagues?

G-d could have wreaked just one major plague on Egypt to achieve Jewish freedom. Why were there ten?

Rabbi Berel Wein ,

Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein
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The Mishne in Avot questions why the world was created, so to speak, by ten statements and utterances from Heaven. It explains that this shows the importance of life on this planet, and of the infinite universe itself, that it was lovingly created, when one statement alone would have been sufficient.

The repetition of the statements of creation were a sign of affection between the Creator and the created, and it illustrates the complexity and eternal importance of the human condition in the infinite universe in which we live.

I think the same type of message is communicated to us in the Torah reading of this week. We are told of plague after plague that was visited upon the Egyptians, to force them to free the people of Israel from bondage and slavery.

Why so many plagues? The Lord could certainly have accomplished the same result with one plague, especially the last and final plague of the death of the Egyptian firstborn. Why go through the exercise of the first nine plagues, that apparently were unsuccessful in achieving the desired goal of Jewish freedom, when one major blow apparently would have been sufficient to achieve the emancipation of the people of Israel from Egyptian bondage?

One can easily say in response to this question that it was the cumulative effect of all the plagues that brought about the decision by Pharaoh and the Egyptians to free the Jewish slaves. Nevertheless, from a literal reading of the Torah text itself there is little proof that we are speaking about a cumulative effect, but rather the one, main blow – death of the firstborn Egyptians – that brought about Jewish freedom and the Exodus from Egypt.

A hard-won victory is more meaningful than an easy instantaneous triumph of success. A process that requires patience, with the ability to absorb disappointments and frustrations, all on the road to ultimate success, is something that is enormously valuable and lasting. It is not only the Egyptians that have to experience the process of the ten plagues visited upon them, but it is also the Jewish slaves that must experience the frustration and disappointment that each plague brought with it.

It is obvious from the Torah that Moshe expected a quick victory, and, that he had a feeling of resentment and had complaints that things apparently became worse and not better when he embarked on his mission to free the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery. The Lord reminds him of the behavior of the founders of the Jewish people Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who exhibited patience and fortitude, in their ultimate triumph in creating the Jewish people. This had a lasting and eternal quality to it. Easy victories are usually squandered away.

The universe that was created with ten utterances has much more meaning than one created with one statement. An Exodus and emancipation achieved by a process of plagues, of ups and downs of emotion and faith, of challenges and tenacity, remains an eternal guide for all generations of the Jewish people.




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